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During a July of 2010 mission trip to South Africa, Jennifer Millay’s first surprise was the weather.
“It actually gets cold in South Africa. Johannesburg is a mountainous area,” said Millay. “A week after we left it actually snowed.”
Her second surprise? The state of day care facilities – called creches – with children often housed in garage-style buildings with cement floors.
Then Millay and church friend Dana Pratt, both of DeLand, met a South African agency that knitted quilt squares for orphanages, and the light bulb went on.
“I came home and thought ‘this is something I can do,’ so I started making them,” said Millay.
And they haven’t stopped making and collecting 6 by 6 inch quilt and crocheted squares since that time. In five years they have collected and sent 62,085 squares to South Africa, which are given to people to make blankets. That’s enough for over 1,500 of them, assuming 40 squares per quilt or blanket.
Squares from everywhere, even Canada. Residents of nursing homes have taken up the cause and contribute on a regular basis. The church where Millay and Pratt attend – the Urbana Bible Education Center – holds Stitch-a-Thons monthly to encourage the production of more. The next one is at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 18 at the education center and Christadelphian Church in Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana.
On a second trip to South Africa, the duo took six suitcases of quilt squares and were able to see their impact first-hand.
“The cool thing is we were able to take a suitcase of squares to a family of 10. This family was Congolese refugees hoping for a better life,” said Pratt. “We thought we would never see them again.”
She was wrong. That family eventually moved to a Chicago suburb, so they are just a few hours away.
“So it’s just a full circle. It’s so exciting,” added Pratt.
And, as is often the case, the giver turns into the one who receives.
“The beautiful thing about this is, we thought we were just helping South Africa, but what we’ve seen is it’s helped Americans to feel needed. For shut-ins who have leftover yarn, it gives them a purpose,” said Pratt.
“We are the ones that have received,” added Millary.
That includes shipping. The group used to send suitcases of squares through people going to South Africa, but now sends them by sea through a Chicago company that is donating the service. The most recent shipment included 27,310 squares.
Squares can be knitted or crocheted, and should not be made out of cotton (it shrinks) or wool (it itches). The stitchers are accepting monetary donations in order to purchase supplies, or just supplies themselves. For more information go to www.bibleeducatoincenter.org or email email@example.com